Sustainability Center Research Initiative


The Sustainability Center Research Initiative aims to map the landscape of prominent academic centers and institutes doing substantive work in the broad realm of Sustainability. The initiative, supported by the Sam Walton Business School's Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas, tries to uncover the wide variety of relevant and quality practices at “sustainability centers” throughout the academic world and serve as a compendium of information on these centers. The research paper, A Closer Look at Applied Sustainability Centers, sheds light on the operations of some key centers and what they do to influence the world of practice.



Phase I

Research for this project was conducted via three different methods – a broad internet scan, in-depth interviews, and an online questionnaire. The first Phase of this research surveyed a variety of academic centers on a number of metrics – in this broad scan we gathered basic information on over 200 centers around North America and around the world. The summary data of these centers is available here.


Phase II

During Phase II of this research, we dove deeper into the activity, conduct, and goals of a handful of centers, an attempt to shed light on the detailed workings of this smaller group of centers. More specifically, we selected 20 centers from the sustainability database for in-depth interviews. The purpose of these interviews was to explore the development, scope, structure, and workings of these centers in order to provide an overview of their experiences. Through these interviews we obtained detailed qualitative data not available through our earlier research. The completed interviews shed light on the stories that brought these centers to prominence and illustrated how each center managed itself, its staff, its programmatic work and research, and its partners.



Research Paper


The Aspen Institute Center for Business Education has just released its findings from the Sustainability Center Research Initiative, in A Closer Look at Applied Sustainability Centers. The paper discusses the rise of academic centers with a focus on applied sustainability, primarily in environmental subjects, and examines a number of those centers in detail. Our hope in offering this information is to provide a survey of the current sustainability landscape, help schools learn from each other’s experiences and inspire greater collaboration and creativity. The report was researched and written by Rick Bunch, MBA (Senior Fellow, Aspen BSP), Jennifer Johnson, Ph.D. (Research Associate, Aspen CBE), and Alex Roberts (Program Manager, Aspen CBE).


Special thanks to the Applied Sustainability Center at the Sam Walton Business School, University of Arkansas, for funding this research.





The Aspen Institute Center for Business Education is part of the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program.
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